Some say that the Queen of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, Cleopatra took her life in 30 B.C. by using an asp to bite her, while others claim that she used a sharp object coated in poison. She was buried with her lover and Roman politician and general, Mark Antony, who stabbed himself in the chest in a tomb that has yet to be discovered.
Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winner Ernst Hemingway's death is still debated if it was an accidental shooting or an intentional act that killed the prolific hunter at only 62.
Robin Williams, a man that brought endless joy and laughter to television screens, took his life in 2014 after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He led a life in the public eye and hid his depression and anxieties well from his massive fan base.
Suicide seems to withstand the test of time and does not discriminate on the basis of sex, age, or status. While most suicides will not affect the affairs of empires, such as Cleopatra, suicide deeply affects the victims it leaves behind.
As we mourn the loss of greatly admired artists, entrepreneurs, risk-takers, loved ones, and dreamers, we are left to contemplate the questions that plague us after such tragic endings.
Fr. Spitzer Suicide in Catholicism
Fr. Spitzer is asked these questions by a viewer dealing with her own grief, and his answer may help those who are struggling with the loss of a friend or loved one. Please know our thoughts and prayers are with you.
Catholics, especially, are thought to have a complicated and often harsh view of suicide: Isn't it a mortal sin? If so, what does that mean? How can we help those who are grieving? What about God's compassion?
Criteria of Mortal Sin and Applying it to the Act of Suicide
In order for something to be considered a mortal sin, it must meet three criteria:
- The sin must be of grave nature.
- It must be done with sufficient reflection and full knowledge.
- It must be committed with complete consent.
We know that suicide is indeed of a serious nature because it breaks the Fifth Commandment by unjustly taking away a life. But the second and third criteria are more complicated.
In order for someone to have full knowledge, they must have the time and ability to reflect on the matter. This means they must acknowledge there are other options but instead have chosen to do this act. Furthermore, they must understand that the act itself is a grave sin. This isn't always the case for those who "see no way out".
The third criterion is even more significant to this issue. Even if a person is completely aware of the sin they are committing, it is possible, even likely, that there is an impediment to their free use of the will. Complete consent requires the full, unhindered use of the will and, thus, the full and proper operation of all mental faculties. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states: "Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide."
God's Compassion in the Wake of Suicide
Finally, God will not be outdone in generosity. We can trust that He loves our friends and family members more perfectly than we do.
Those affected by suicide may be comforted by offering up prayers (especially these "Prayers for Times of Trial, Suffering, and Anxiety") and by contemplating the love and compassion of God.
The CCC reassures us, “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to Him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.”